A few of my initial posts here discussed a theory of spacio-temporal development in Olympia. Essentially, the owners and developers of land erect structures on land where they can recover the greatest financial benefit. The factors of development are demand for housing, costs of the development, and price of acquisition of the development rights. Where those factors turn into aligning incentives, we see development.
From my earliest moments in Olympia, I’ve heard countless politician and civic activist preach that they can somehow reverse these market forces in order to develop housing downtown (where development is more expensive and where I believe, there is insufficient demand). That hasn’t really happened downtown over the last five years, but land development is happening all over Olympia.
The August 1, 2012 Site Plan Review meeting is a good example of two projects that no one is talking about—partly at least because there is little to say about the banal. We’ve seen it before, and unfortunately we’ll see it again.
This is another ordinary apartment complex along Highway 101 behind the Auto-Mall. A lot of people could potentially move into these places where they will need to get in their cars to get anywhere except another gas station. In our myopic community the gas station may have become the center of life for all of us trapped in our various obscure corners of the land use map. On the other hand it, gives us our over-sized dwellings, covered parking, and inwardly focused lives with no unexpected social interaction except the opportunity to like another’s Facebook posts. (I’m particularly fond of those fun little posters that everyone is sharing these days.)
Senior Housing. Again in a relatively isolated area (or at least not a very walkable one) because there’s no better place to fritter away the last years of one’s life, trapped in the same suburban form that trapped us during our wonder years.
I’m not sure what to make of the location of this one. The August 1 Meeting Agenda says here:
But the Design Review Board Staff report from March 22, 2012 says here:
I think either way, my general criticism applies.
See here and here for checklists that ensure some kind of compliance with the comprehensive plan. Each were carefully met or deemed inapplicable here even though of course, the development itself seems to miss the point of undergoing these kinds of analyses in the first place. I don’t care how walkable or beautiful a building is if it itself is not accessible by foot and there isn’t much else around except a hospital which I suppose is fitting, but sad.
These types of uses compartmentalize our demographic segments so effectively that we have little possibility of experiencing anything other than what we are experiencing. Thurston County holds excellent examples of introverted land uses where not only uses are segregated but the consumers of those uses are generally for one single slice of the demographic pie. Our newer neighborhoods have the same young families, luxury condos for the empty nesters, etc etc. There are no new neighborhoods or even developments that I can think of in which the occurrence of a diversity of consumers is happenstance.
A major benefit of a city is our ability to interact unexpectedly with others—whether it’s at the post office, grocery store, or tavern. That’s sorta what makes a city interesting and a lack of it makes a suburb boring. Of course, getting perspective of others even if we only observe rather than interact with them has the potential to broaden our horizons.
Until the land is consumed in completely uninspiring developments exactly like these, the market forces governing land use will not make it rational for profit-seeking parties to develop downtown. Long term, we’ll still hopefully see the kind of urbanization that occurs with steady jobs, demand for housing, and a declining stock of land. However, in the shorter long term (or near term), we’ll see more of the same. Unfortunately, this means we’ll start noticing more problems typically associated with excess traffic at intersections like Cooper Point and Black Lake and other overtaxed suburban forms. Likewise, these types of car dependent land uses (where literally doing anything outside the home requires owning and using a car) will continue to put a strain on the municipal finances because maintenance is expensive and will get more so as more cars are on the road.
These two actions support my conclusion that land use in Olympia (and all of Thurston County for that matter) is a disastrous patchwork of nonsense with few a bright spot here and there. That is not going to change with the Comprehensive Plan Update. Those of you holding your breath for major developments downtown best take a deep one.